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3 Takeaways for Hotels: How UC Davis Mismanaged its Online Reputation

Last Updated: October 21, 2022|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |4.3 min read|

Hotels can learn a lot about online reputation and marketing from other industries. This week, a great example of what not to do emerged, when breaking news online revealed that the University of California Davis has spent around $175,000 to clean up its online reputation following an incident in 2011 where campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters.

The incident occurred Nov. 18, 2011, when Occupy demonstrators ignored orders to leave the UC Davis campus and university police started spewing pepper spray into the crowd. The police response prompted massive protests on campus, which gained national media attention and ignited a debate about police brutality and use of excessive force against peaceful protesters.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the backlash lingered for more than a year as the university became embroiled in investigations and lawsuits that soiled the school’s reputation.

“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” said UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis. “We wanted to promote and advance the important teaching, research and public service done by our students, faculty and staff, which is the core mission of our university.”

You can see simply by Googling UC Davis that their efforts had the opposite of the intended effect:

“I would say that it is common for an individual who might be applying for a job or an individual who has been wrongly maligned to go to a company like, but for a public university that is funded through taxpayer funds, who has repeatedly stepped into a vast hole, it is surprising that they thought this could be done without the light of day shining on the act,” said Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public affairs consultant. “It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”

Ultimately, this attempt to erase mistakes in the public eye shows that the administration and the PR team at UC Davis lack a fundamental understanding of how the Internet works. Here are some takeaways from this debacle for hotels:

1. Nothing on the Internet goes away

In the age of screenshots and caching, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take back anything you say online. For example, this Gizmodo article used the Wayback Machine to make fun of old versions of popular websites. Think about how this could be used, should you decide to change a policy posted online, for example. This strategy turned out poorly for this hotel, when staff thought they could pretend that the policy never existed in the first place. Technology like the Wayback Machine ensures that past and prospective guests can and will discover proof to the contrary.

The takeaway for hoteliers:
Don’t try to erase mistakes or pretend they didn’t happen. In today’s digital age, you are unlikely to be successful.

2. Don’t try to cover it up

The UC Davis press debacle is a fantastic example of The Streisand Effect.

The Streisand Effect holds that an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information on the Internet usually has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.

In 2003, Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit demanded the removal of an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from a publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from the website only six times. Two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially. More than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month. The phrase “Streisand Effect” was coined by Techdirt founder Mike Masnick to describe this phenomenon.

The takeaway for hoteliers:
Instead of trying to hide mistakes, be honest with your guests and don’t be afraid to apologize.

3. The Internet loves a train wreck

At this point, it’s a good idea to remember that the Internet loves a train wreck. If your discussions with an unhappy guest continue to happen online, people will take notice. A lot of times they watch and share with their friends, purely for the entertainment value. It’s the reason this GIF was created:

You want to avoid this if at all possible to avoid further publicizing the incident. Therefore, it is critical to take discussions with guests about negative experiences offline ASAP. Get the conversation out of the public eye, so you can find a solution privately without causing a sensation.

The takeaway for hoteliers:
When responding to negative comments online, apologize for the poor experience, outline the steps you’re taking to fix the problem, and invite the unhappy guest to discuss further offline.

We’re all human

Let’s face it. We’re all human. Mistakes will be made from time-to-time. When that happens, the best way to respond is to own up to the mistake, apologize, and do your best to rectify the situation.

Want to learn more about the right ways to manage your online reputation? CLICK HERE to download our guide, Responding to Reviews: A Guide for Hoteliers.

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